The Irish Paralympic football team guaranteed their place at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games today with a brilliant 1-0 win over Argentina in their classification match at the Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships in St. George’s Park in England. Gerard Glynn’s Irish side will now progress to a 5th/6th place play-off tomorrow afternoon against the winner of England versus USA. The only goal of the game was scored with just five minutes remaining by Captain Luke Evans.
Placings are very important at these Championships as anything above an eighth place finish completely guarantees 2016 Rio Paralympic Games qualification. Ireland did not want to be facing into a 7th/8th place play off tomorrow so today’s win was absolutely vital. Ireland missed out on qualification for the London 2012 Paralympic Games by just one spot so to secure a place on the plane to the eight team tournament for 2016 is an achievement that cannot be understated.
Speaking after the game an elated Irish manager Barry Ferguson said:
“We’re just delighted with the result. The lads didn’t actually play that well but worked so hard to dig out the result. They did exactly what they had to do to win the game. They have worked so hard over the last number of years and months to secure Paralympic Games qualification, they deserve it, we’re so proud of them.”
Irish goalscorer and captain Luke Evans also spoke:
“While it wasn’t our best performance we are completely delighted with the win. We had to dig so deep and showed great character to do it. It really hurt missing out on the London 2012 Games so to guarantee our place at Rio 2016 with that win is massive, it means so much to us and has been a long time coming. We’re keen to try and push on for fifth tomorrow.”
Argentina are one place higher than Ireland in the world rankings at sixth, so on paper were favourites going into today’s encounter. As expected it was a tightly contested affair with the play from end to end throughout. Dillon Sherdian tormented the Argentinian defence while Gary Messett had an immense battle with his counterpart Bassi at midfield. Irish keeper Simon L’Estrange was busy throughout making countless saves and captain Luke Evans led a committed and disciplined Irish defensive effort.
Argentina were making all the running in the opening period of the first half but as the midway point approached Ireland began to get on top with several chances but just couldn’t get on the end of them. During the final ten minutes of the opening period Ireland had four corners in a row and with superior height advantage all round looked so threatening. Somehow the Argentinians managed to keep them out. Ireland’s best chance of the half came just two minutes from the break when Ballyfermot United’s Sheridan went on a brilliant run right through the middle beating every defender he encountered but saw his final shot go just over the crossbar.
Again the South American side started the second half brighter piling on the pressure with a couple of early corners. L’Estrange made a good save from the second of those and released a ball to see Sheridan again make a magnificent run the length of the pitch only to be eventually denied in an one on one with the Argentinian keeper. Irish subs Podge Leacy and Jason Moran came on for O’Flaherty, and Messett, who had been yellow carded early in the game. Either team could have broken the deadlock over the ensuing fifteen minutes with chances a plenty. However, with just five minutes to go Ireland were awarded a free kick close to the left hand corner flag. Sheridan stepped up and put in a super ball into the box which saw Evans convert with a really brave header low to the left. Despite man of the match Bassi pushing a great shot just wide of the Irish post on fifty eight minutes and with three minutes added time to contend with Ireland held out for a memorable victory.
They have very little time to recover before their final game of these Championships tomorrow against England for fifth spot at 7pm. The semi-finals take place later today with Brazil facing Ukraine, and the Netherlands against favourites Russia.